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Lightheart Gear Alpha Direct Hoodie Review

Lightheart Gear Alpha Direct Hoodie Review

Lightheart Gear has started making Polartec Alpha Direct hoodies that are great for hiking, backpacking, and lounging around at home. There’s an incredible demand for hoodies made with fleecy and warm Polartec Alpha Direct because it is such a good insulator and because it’s so much lighter weight (roughly 50% lighter) and compressible than other forms of fleece used in hoodies and pullovers.

Specs at a Glance

  • Weight: 6.4 oz (XL)
  • Gender: Men’s (Women’s sizes also available)
  • Kangaroo pocket: Yes
  • Hood: Yes
  • Wrist Cuffs: Yes
  • Thumbholes: Yes

Lightheart sells two styles of Alpha Direct Hoodies, one with and without a front kangaroo (handwarmer) pocket, in both men’s and women’s sizes. The kangaroo pocket is especially nice for hanging out in camp at night if your hands get cold easily and to prevent insects from chomping on them, not to mention that it provides a temporary holding place when you need to use your hands for something else.

Lightheart’s Alpha Direct hoodies are made with 90-weight Apha Direct, which is a good weight for 3-season hiking and as an added thermal adjunct for your sleep system. Alpha Direct is the second generation of Polartec Alpha, which was originally created for use inside jackets. Alpha Direct is slightly more durable than the original Polartec Alpha and contains Alpha fibers attached to a mesh core, making it more suitable for standalone use and direct skin contact without a lining fabric.

The wrists have two layers of fabric and thumb holes
The wrists have two layers of fabric and thumb holes

There are a few things I really like about this Lightheart Alpha Direct Hoodie. The wrist cuffs have thumb holes in them and the fabric is doubled over for extra durability and warmth. When you put your thumbs in the thumb holes, the Alpha Direct fabric is pulled up over the back of your hand all the way to the base of your fingers which is nice on cold mornings if you don’t carry gloves. They also make it easier to pull on a jacket over the hoodie with thew the sleeves bunching up. The doubled wrist fabric is also a welcome design feature since the wrists and end of the sleeves take so much abuse and abrasion, not to mention the extra warmth and wind resistance it provides.

The hood has a high turtle neck and elastic perimeter drawcord
The hood has a high turtle neck and elastic perimeter drawcord.

The hood has an elastic cord running around the front and a cord lock so can tightly cinch the opening for more warmth and even raise it above your mouth. The neck is also cut high like a turtleneck to maximize warmth since so much blood passes near the skin on the neck on its way to your brain and back.

Fit and Sizing

The sewing is very neat and the seams are tight and I can’t feel them against my skin. But the sizing runs distinctly large in the chest and a bit long, so the hoodie sticks out under waist-length rain jackets and wind shirts, which isn’t optimal. For example, the hoodie fits fine with my Montbell Versalite Rain Jacket below, which reaches my upper hips but is too long when worn with my Enlightened Equipment Copperfield Wind Jacket or my Warbonnet Stash Rain Jacket. I think a shorter waist-length model would be preferable for maximum compatibility with windproof layers.

Cut long, the Alpha Direct Hoodie works best under long jackets that reach the upper hips
Cut long, the Alpha Direct Hoodie works best under long jackets that reach the upper hips like this Montbell Versalite Rain jacket. 

Alpha Direct Limitations

For all of its benefits, Alpha Direct does have some limitations, like all hiking clothing, that are important to know about.

  • The fabric is very loosely woven and is easily torn if it gets snagged, especially if it comes in contact with velcro, which many gear manufacturers use on rain jackets along the zippers or wrist cuffs, tent doors, and at the top of backpacks.
  • Despite its warmth, Alpha Direct has very low wind resistance unlike heavier forms of fleece, so it’s best used under a wind shirt or rain jacket in cold and windy conditions. This can make it a little difficult to avoid perspiring when hiking, so you’ll want to use jackets that are good for dumping excess heat with pit zips or torso zips.
  • Alpha Direct can absorb a considerable amount of water from wet-out under a rain shell. While Alpha Direct dries very quickly when hung up to dry, it can chill you if it gets saturated under a rain jacket in cool all-day rain where it acts as a cold conductor.


The Lightheart Gear Alpha Direct Hoodie has many fine features to recommend it ranging from a warm hood and durable wrist cuffs to a kangaroo pocket. The sizing tends to run a bit large in the chest and length-wise down the hip, so care should be taken when sizing the hoodie if you want one that is suitable for layering under a wind shirt or rain shell. The advantage of an Alpha Direct Hoodie over other types of fleece is that it is much lighter weight in terms of warmth and much more compressible. Despite the length challenges with my hoodie, I still wear it almost every day and it’s a really nice layer to sleep in for added warmth. Alpha Direct does have some limitations as noted above, but it is a marvelous layer for 3-season hiking and backpacking in mountainous terrain where more nuanced thermoregulation is an asset.

Disclosure: The author owns its product.

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  1. I have been intrigued by alpha direct for some time but have not bought and item made from it based on the fact that manufacturers typically include, or sell separately, a special bag to wash it in due to the fact that it is constantly shedding micro plastics. Consequently, users report that items made with alpha direct shrink substantially over time. High price tag, low durability, shorter lifespan, and not healthy for the environment. But damn if you don’t look good out there on the trail!
    Thanks for the review!

    • I wash mine in a fine mesh sack so the washing machine doesn’t eat it in cold water and hang dry (it dries very fast). I haven’t noticed any shrinkage as a result. I imagine if you dried it in a drier, that would be bad. Just like a wool jersey or sweater.

  2. I appreciate the notes on fit in this review as an Alpha garment isn’t going to stretch and if it’s too fitted for one’s body type you’re SOL. I bought an Alpha hoodie from another brand two years ago and have enjoyed it very much. This past winter was very mild in Southern New England. The hoodie was my primary outerwear for very active levels of exertion in conditions where the temps ranged from just below freezing to the mid 40s Fahrenheit. It was also very rainy and can concur with the final limitations bullet point. There can be a profound evaporative cooling effect that’s a bit different than other garments. I found I was most comfortable hiking with a pack in cold, damp conditions when I wore a summer sleeveless cycling base layer under a long sleeve winter base layer (then the hoodie) It was a different combination than usual for me but moving sweat off my torso suddenly became the key to not being excessively chilled by evaporative cooling.

    • Thanks for the layering information.
      Would love to know brand and model for the under layers.

      • Any synthetic or wool jersey.

      • The sleeveless cycling base layers are two no-name brands, one is just Lycra the other CoolMax and a third is an Ornot brand that’s wool polyester blend. They all feel the same tbh.
        The long sleeve mid layers are either an icebreaker that they label a 100 weight or a threadbare smart wool that they label a 250 merino. They also feel about the same on a cold day. It’s really whatever is clean and at hand.

  3. I have one made by Far Point and absolutely love it. It’s been a serious game-changer which I don’t say lightly. It always goes in my pack, even if it’s 100 degrees, because if I get stuck overnight I’ll have a reliable warm layer. Not sure why manufacturers insist on the outrageous price points of these hoodies, but I pretty much guarantee you’ll be happy with your purchase as long as you understand it’s not a windbreaker. It’s meant to breathe and insulate. Under a windbreaker or rain jacket it’s amazingly warm. I’ll never leave the trail head without one in my pack from now on.

  4. I don’t think they are suitable to wear with a pack on unless you wear a shell or wind shirt over them. Even then I’m not sure as I’ve noticed wear on the shoulders. Great for camp etc. I own 4, 2 hoodies, one 90-weight, one 120-weight, and two zip-up 90-weights. I much prefer the usefulness of the 120 contrary to the popular opinion of the 90-weight being the sweet spot.

  5. Mine is from Senchi designs and I love it. But the thumb opening and wrist details makes the Lightheart Gear hoodie stand out.

  6. I think the durability is fixed with 120 GM alpha direct . I’ve prototyped a few , and when paired with a really good shell and base it’s pretty money .

  7. Thanks for doing a review of an Alpha Direct Hoodie. I’ve just started trying them out last year, also a 90-weight. You mentioned that they “absorbs considerable amount of water from wet-out under a rain shell”, how does this compare to a lightweight fleece top? I’ve used a MontBell Chameece Jacket (about a 75-weight fleece) under my rain shell for wet-out… but most of my backpacking is in the dry Sierra Nevada, so not as much experience as you with rain and wet-out conditions. What’s your opinion if comparing these two for rain shell wet-out? Or are these both too thin to be effective for this use? Always appreciate your viewpoint.

    • I haven’t tried the chameece jacket so can’t say. I usually wear a 100 wt fleece under a rain shell to stay warm when its raining in summer. For me, it’s not wet out but perspiration since I prefer non-breathable jackets.

  8. Just Walking (Atlanta)

    Based on your review, Philip, I bought one of these for myself and one for my wife. You neglected to say that I will not be able to wear it into the woods for a few years because it’s too nice for that — it rocks business casual at my office. I haven’t taken it off since Christmas. My wife and I both love how this hoodie feels, how it works, the hood . . . and then there’s the incredible kangaroo pocket. I’m going to get a solid black Alpha for formal occasions. I’ll wear it under my blaze orange Lightheart rain jacket for Halloween. Thank you for all your great advice, sir!

  9. Philip: I just spent a week on the AT in Virginia, and this was the perfect layer for cold, windy days and chilly nights. I bonded with a thru-hiker from NY who said he had been living in his Lightheart hoodie for weeks. It was also perfect for dining in Roanoke VA before the hike. Thanks again for the great recommendation.

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